By Ren Behan
Risotto is an Italian dish, made with rice grown in the north of Italy. A simple risotto should only take around twenty minutes to cook, making it a quick-to-the-table, fresh and healthy meal. It’s an Italian staple and the very best thing about it? Once you learn how to make a basic risotto, you’ll open the door to an endless store of new recipes to try!
There are different varieties of risotto rice, but the best ones to look out for are Arborio, Vialone Nano and Carnaroli, which is said to make the creamiest risotto. It can also absorb a lot of liquid (usually stock) whilst staying ‘al dente’ – meaning that it should still have a bite and not be too soft once cooked.
There are a few tips to remember when cooking a risotto. Use a large, wide pan so that the rice, when covered with a little stock, cooks evenly. You don’t need to rinse the rice before, and the cooking heat should be kept low and gentle throughout. Heat your stock up in a second pan, separately, and keep it simmering so that when you add the stock to the rice, it is already hot and bubbling.
As with lots of Italian dishes, you usually start by cooking some chopped onion, carrot, celery and a little garlic (optional) in some olive oil – this base is called a ‘sofritto’. Next, you add the risotto rice to the pan, stirring it around so that the rice grains are coated with olive oil. You can also add a little white wine at this stage. Then, add a ladleful of hot stock to the pan and keep stirring. Once the stock has been absorbed into the rice, add a little more stock, one ladleful at a time, until the rice is cooked.
After around fifteen minutes, your risotto should look creamy and the rice should be soft, but still a little firm when you bite it; not mushy! At the end of cooking, you can stir in some grated Parmesan cheese (there are vegetarian alternatives) and a drizzle of olive oil or some butter.
Once you’ve mastered a basic risotto, such as ‘Risotto alla Parmigiana,’ you can start to get creative. Although you can add seafood, such as prawns, or chicken, a simple risotto also makes a good vegetarian meal. Almost any vegetables can be added to a risotto; asparagus, zucchini or courgette, cauliflower (try Romanesco), mushrooms (white button mushrooms or wild mushrooms), peas, broad beans, or try cubed and roasted butternut squash or aubergine.
One of my favourite risotto recipes is a simple white risotto, made with a stock of dried porcini mushrooms, with fresh mushrooms added towards the end, similar to this Grilled Mushroom Risotto. I recently spent the week in Italy and tried a very tasty porcini mushroom risotto in a restaurant in Florence. I noticed that the risotto rice had a good bite to it, the consistency was quite ‘soupy’ and that it was served on a flat plate, rather than in a bowl.
Other vegetarian favourites of the week included a simple courgette risotto, finished with olive oil and fresh lemon zest. Or, how about a risotto with creamy burrata? I’m also now keen to try Jamie’s Artichoke risotto since artichokes were so plentiful in the Italian markets and yet we hardly use them at all in England, which is a shame.
To get some more tips and to see how easy it is to make a really tasty risotto, watch Gennaro and Jamie in this video showing you How to cook a mushroom risotto.
Ren Behan is a mum of two and a food writer – find out more at www.renbehan.com